Terror suspect alleges torture for confession

Lolita C. Baldor

A suspected Saudi terrorist testified at a military hearing that he was tortured into confessing he was involved in the bombing of the USS Cole, according to a Pentagon transcript released yesterday.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national of Yemeni descent, said he made up stories that tied him to the 2000 Cole attack, which killed 17 US sailors and nearly succeeded in sinking the $1 billion destroyer in Yemen’s Aden Harbor .

“From the time I was arrested five years ago, they have been torturing me. It happened during interviews. One time they tortured me one way, and another time they tortured me in a different way,” Nashiri said, according to the transcript. “I just said those things to make the people happy. They were very happy when I told them those things.”

Portions of the 36-page hearing transcript were redacted, and the transcript does not include any details of the torture Nashiri said took place over five years. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that any allegations of torture would be investigated and that sections were blacked out of the transcript because of national security reasons.

Nashiri is one of 14 so-called high-value detainees who were moved to the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in September from secret CIA prisons abroad. The military is conducting hearings for the 14 to determine whether they are “enemy combatants” who can be held indefinitely and prosecuted for war crimes.

Human rights groups have argued for years that the CIA’s detention and interrogation techniques amount to torture. The International Committee of the Red Cross has interviewed the 14 detainees.

In a confidential report that has not been publicly distributed, the Red Cross said the 14 prisoners described highly abusive interrogation methods, especially when techniques such as sleep deprivation and forced standing were used in combination. None of the detainees’ accounts has been verified.

US officials long have said the CIA program is for the most dangerous detainees, and the CIA says its officers do not torture.

According to US intelligence, Nashiri is the suspected mastermind of the Cole bombing, and was Al Qaeda’s operations chief in the Arabian Peninsula until he was caught in 2002. Nashiri, 41, was allegedly tasked by Osama bin Laden to attack the Cole.

In the transcript, Nashiri says he met with bin Laden many times and received as much as a half million dollars from the terror leader. The money, he said, was for “personal expenses,” including for marriage and business deals.

Nashiri said he told interrogators that he spent some of the money on the explosives used to bomb the Cole, but in reality he said he gave the explosives to friends to help dig wells. He acknowledged that he confessed to be involved in several other terror plots in order to get the torture to stop — including the 2002 bombing of the French oil tanker Limburg, plans to bomb American ships in the Gulf, a plan to hijack a plane and crash it into a ship, and claims that bin Laden had a nuclear bomb.

In one instance, he said, he took money to buy a boat and develop a fishing business, and bin Laden later told him it could be used for a bombing. Nashiri said he ended the project and was not involved when bin Laden later used it “as a military tool.”

In the Limburg attack, suicide bombers rammed an explosive-laden boat into the tanker, killing a Bulgarian crew member and spilling 90,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Aden.

Speaking through a translator, Nashiri said he knew many of the people involved in attacks, including on the Cole, but said he is not a member of Al Qaeda . Asked whether he is an enemy combatant, Nashiri said he does not consider Americans his enemies.

But, he said, “Do you call anybody who ask you to leave from the Gulf as an enemy combatant? . . . Everybody in the world is telling you to leave.” He said he is one of those people who wants the United States to leave the Gulf.

In a hearing at Guantanamo Bay on March 20, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, a Malaysian also known as Lillie, declined to attend. But in a written statement, he denied allegations against him, principally that he helped transfer funds for the 2003 bombing at a Jakarta hotel that killed 12.

“It is true I facilitated the movement of money . . . but I did not know what it was going to be used for,” he said.